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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Ninian, British Missionary Bsp
Ninian , British missionary bishop. The general facts of his life and work present comparatively few points for dispute, there being but one tradition, and that not materially departed from.
The primary authority is Bede (H. E. iii. 4), who, however, only incidentally alludes to St. Ninian in connexion with St. Columba, yet touches therein the chief points embodied in the later Lifeâ€”his converting the southern Picts a long time before St. Columba's day, his being "de natione Brittonum," but instructed in the Christian faith and mysteries at Rome; his friendship with St. Martin of Tours, in whose honour he dedicated his episcopal see and church at Candida Casa in the province of the Bernicii, and his building the church there of stone "insolito Brittonibus more" ( M. H. B. 176). This is repeated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle a.d. 565 ( ib. 303). Ailred's Vita S. Niniani seems little more than an expansion of these details, but whether he, in the 12th cent., had authentic evidence of an earlier date to assist him we do not know, except that he specially refers to Bede's information and also to a "liber de vita et miraculis ejus, barbario [barbarice] scriptus," of the value of which we are ignorant. The chief Life is Vita Niniani Pictorum Australium apostoli, auctore Ailredo Reivallensi , first printed by Pinkerton (Vit. Ant. SS. 1 seq. ed. 1789) and reprinted with trans. and notes, by Bp. Forbes ( Historians of Scotland , vol. v. 1874). (See also Hardy, Descript. Cat. i. 44 seq. 853; Bp. Forbes, Lives of SS. Kent. and Nin. Introd.; Grub, Eccl. Hist. Scot. i. c. 2 et al.; Skene, Celt. Scot. ii. 3, 444; Haddan and Stubbs, Counc. i. 14, 35; Pinkerton, Enquiry , ii. 263 seq.; Pryce, Anc. Brit. Ch. 104 seq.)
Ailred's Life is of the usual unhistoric character, fuller of moralizings than of facts. and having only one fixed point to suggest a date. St. Ninian was of royal birth and belonged to the valley of the Solway; his father was probably a regulus in the Cumbrian kingdom, and, being a Christian, had his son baptized. The youth soon manifested a desire to visit Rome, and appears to have reached it in the time of pope Damasus (a.d. 366â€“384), perhaps in 370. After devoting several years there to the Scriptures and holy learning, he was raised to the episcopate, a.d. 394, by the pope himself, probably Siricius (a.d. 385â€“399) and sent as bp. to the W. of Britain, where the Gospel was unknown, corrupted, or misrepresented by the teachers. Calling on St. Martin at Tours and receiving from him masons to build churches according to the Roman method, he returned to his native shores and built his church at Witerna, now Whithern in Wigtonshire, but whether near the site of the later abbey or on the island near the shore is uncertain. While building the church the news reached him of St. Martin's death (a.d. 397), in whose honour he dedicated it; this at the latest must have been in the spring of 398. We have no other landmark for ascertaining his dates. The chief field of his missionary labours was in the central district of the E. of Scotland among those barbarians who had defied the Roman power in the days of Agricola and who were separated from the Roman province of Valentia by the rampart of Antoninus; but the veneration attached to his name is shown by his dedications being found over all Scotland. (See Bp. Forbes, Kals. 424.)
His monastic school, known variously as Magnum Monasterium, Monasterium Rosnatense, Alba, and Candida Casa, was famous through Cumbria and Ireland, and was one of the chief seats of early Christian learning to which Welsh and Irish saints resorted, till both school and see were destroyed by the irruptions of the Britons and Saxons. The see was revived for a time in the 8th cent., under Saxon influence from York (Haddan and Stubbs, Counc. ii. pt. i. 7, 8, 56 seq.; Stubbs, Reg. Sac. Ang. 184 et al.), to be again restored in the 12th cent. by King David I. of Scotland. The date usually assigned for his death, though on no definite data, is Sept. 16, 432, and Bede ( H. E. iii. c. 4) says he was buried in his church at Candida Casa, which in the middle ages became much frequented by pilgrims.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Ninian, British Missionary Bsp'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/n/ninian-british-missionary-bsp.html. 1911.
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